I'm not one for partying. But I am very much into tradition.
And I have one tradition that makes New Year's Eve one of my most favorite days of the year.
You see, every New Year's Eve – before we head out to dinner – my wife and I sit by the fire as I review the paradigm-shifting events and exciting discoveries of the prior 12 months.
We've come to refer to this exercise as my "annual report."
And now I'm going to share that "report" with you.
On a personal note, one of the most exciting events of 2012 was the launch of the Era of Radical Change.
Last year turned out to be perfect for the introduction of a newsletter that sifts through world-changing innovations in search of the ones that can bring you life-changing gains.
Like the financial markets, the world of technology is moving faster than ever. In the world of science, what was formerly fiction has become fact.
In looking back over the stories that I've penned since April, here are the four top tech stories that keep me up at night.
Their impact could be huge – and so could their payoff.
Commercial Space Travel Blasted Off
Scientists have been talking about "commercial" space travel – you know, buy a ticket and ride a rocket – for years. But I believe 2012 will go down as the birth of the age of space tourism. The proof came back in May when startup SpaceX launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets and then had its Dragon spacecraft dock with the International Space Station.
SpaceX is the brainchild of CEO Elon Musk, who founded the firm in 2002 and plowed $100 million of his own money into it. You may know him as a co-founder of electronics payment firm PayPal.
When it comes to high-tech, Musk has the Midas touch. He also cofounded Tesla Motors (NasdaqGS: TSLA), the maker of electric luxury cars and a company whose shares gained more than 25% last year.
And Musk wasn't the only space mogul pushed the whole commercial space travel concept into a higher orbit: Sir Richard Branson's firm, Virgin Galactic, announced in June that it intends to ferry passengers on a commercial space flight later this year.
Bionic Humans Strut Their Stuff
Last August, I told you about two firms that revealed their hope to begin selling bionic eyes in the U.S market next year. The first is Second Sight Medical Products.
It's a venture-funded firm that has already begun selling its Argus II system in Europe. (The device is named after Argus, a Greek mythology giant with 100 eyes. But tech experts don't get that romantic. They just called it a "bionic eye.")
Here's how it works. Doctors install an antenna behind a patient's eye. They connect that to a special set of eyeglasses containing a video camera capable of capturing a scene.
The second firm, which hails from Israel, is Nano Retina Inc. Talk about cutting edge: The firm's Bio-Retina system is laser-powered. Little wonder the system received a five-start review from Popular Science.
Surgeons can insert the system in just 30 minutes. The implant captures images directly in the eye; the laser powers the implant remotely.
Meantime, Google Inc. (NasdaqGS: GOOG) showed off a new device that can turn almost anyone into something of a "bionic" human.
I'm referring to Google Glass.
Technically speaking, this isn't true bionics – it's not wired directly to humans. But when you put these eyeglasses on, you have instant access to your email, traffic updates, maps and weather. You can even make wireless video calls. Google expects to have spectacular spectacles on the market by the end of this year – making this a "bionic" profit play you can invest in today.
Lastly, don't forget about Zac Vawter. On Nov. 4, Vawter made history by scaling 103 floors of the Chicago Willis Tower using a prosthetic limb that he controlled with his mind – making it the first real "bionic" leg.
And you thought Steve Austin was cool …
New Approaches "Rescued" Alzheimer's Treatments
At first glance, 2012 seemed to be the year of the setback in the Alzheimer's field. Three big drug firms had to drop plans to field new drugs because they simply didn't work.
There's still no cure for this dreaded disease that affects millions around the world. But last August I told you about three new breakthroughs that offer hope that we will at least be able to keep this memory-robbing condition at bay.
The drug contains antibodies that may help remove amyloid, the sticky plaque that clogs patients' brains, clouds memories and stymies clear thinking. Baxter plans to test the treatment on 400 patients as early as the end of this year.
In the second initiative, a clinical trial at MIT found that a "cocktail" of nutrients known as Souvenaid can improve memory for those with an early form of Alzheimer's. Souvenaid is a mixture of three compounds found in a healthy diet – choline, uridine, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. You get them by eating meat, nuts, eggs, fish, and flaxseed.
The substance combats Alzheimer's by stimulating the growth of new synapses, which pass signals from one brain cell to another. It comes from the healthcare division of Danone. Here in the U.S. market, you may know it better as The Dannon Co. Inc., and may even enjoy its yogurt.
The third Alzheimer's advance came from the Washington University School of Medicine. A team there looked at families with a genetic risk of the disease. Some 128 subjects received blood and spinal fluid tests as well as brain scans and a check of their thinking skills.
Researchers found clear signs of how Alzheimer's progresses as much as 25 years in advance. A second team found that something as simple as the way people walk could be an early warning of Alzheimer's.
This marked the first time doctors linked a physical symptom to the condition. Spotting the disease early means doctors could begin helping patients much earlier – even starting at age 40, for example.
Robotic Walking Suits Got Into High Gear
Last year, Brian Shaffer became the "poster boy" for the rapidly growing field of robotic walking suits. In early November, I told you how this father of four is helping develop cutting-edge technology to let paraplegics walk again.
He's part of a test program for a new powered "exoskeleton" that functions like a robotic walking suit. The advanced device allows people with severe spinal cord injuries to sit, stand, walk, and even climb stairs on their own. Designed with ease-of-use in mind, the relatively light and compact system is worn over top a patient's clothes.
And this development shouldn't take anything away from another company I told you about last May. This company, Ekso Bionics, already has a device on the market. That offers new hope to more than 125,000 people in the U.S. alone who are paraplegics, meaning they are paralyzed from the waist down.
Ekso boasts some truly great tech. Its battery-powered bionic devices employ sensors and motors that allow patients to walk safely and avoid falling.
The advances made in these four fields last year will affect – and hopefully help – millions around the world. At the very least, these advances promise change.
And with change comes opportunity – the opportunity for profit that I hope will make your life better.
And it's these kinds of opportunities that I will continue to bring you in the New Year.
So 12 months from now, when I bring you my "annual report" for 2013, my wish is that we'll also be talking about some of the windfall profits that you've made … in the Era of Radical Change.
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About the Author
Michael A. Robinson is one of the top financial analysts working today. His book "Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings" was a prescient look at the anatomy of the nation's S&L crisis, long before the word "bailout" became part of our daily lexicon. He's a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter, lauded by the Columbia Journalism Review for his aggressive style. His 30-year track record as a leading tech analyst has garnered him rave reviews, too. Today he is the editor of the monthly tech investing newsletter Nova-X Report as well as Radical Technology Profits, where he covers truly radical technologies – ones that have the power to sweep across the globe and change the very fabric of our lives – and profit opportunities they give rise to. He also explores "what's next" in the tech investing world at Strategic Tech Investor.